On March 4, 2017, at the tender age of 31, I knew in my spirit that this was a particular time for a woman. Wherever you go, you hear a woman speak about how being in your thirties gives you clarity about the woman you want to become. An automatic switch occurs in our brains that make us in tune with our mind, body, and spirit. You are quick wit and have a no-nonsense approach to everything. You are more confident then you've ever felt before. Those values didn't align with how I truly felt inside. At that time in my life, I had been wearing my natural hair for five years.
I enjoyed the many stages of my luscious curls. I religiously watched hours upon hours of YouTube videos and spent hundreds of dollars on hair care products. I became obsessed with how I wanted my hair to turn out. I spent hours perfecting the perfect twist out. I enjoyed the process, but there were times I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. As much as I enjoyed my hair, I noticed that it started to tell a story. It went from bouncy, thick, moisturized curls to brittle, thin, and prone-to-breakage curls.
Stress and depression ruined my natural hair.
At the time, I didn't know what actions I needed to take to revive my hair. As my hair started to become an insecurity of mine, I made an impulse decision to cut it one day. As I look back on that dark time in my life, cutting my hair was one of the worst decisions I've ever made.
Stress And Depression
I was getting restless and impatient in my natural hair journey. While patiently waiting in the doctor's office one day, I decided to do the unthinkable. I wanted to cut my hair. I did not experience a breakup, nor did I lose my job. I just wanted to change my identity. Depression works in mysterious ways. You get consumed with your thoughts that you don't want to be yourself anymore. I was one year in from being diagnosed with depression, and I had no clue what to do.
I didn't have the resources to take steps to heal. I suffered in silence. I was confused, angry, lonely, and sad.
I wanted to make sense of it all, and I thought a haircut would be symbolic of a fresh start; at least that's how it plays out in movies. You stand in the mirror with clippers in hand crying and buzzing your tresses away. The next day, you jump out of bed wearing leather and high heel boots like you have it all together. Unfortunately, that's not how my story ended.
As far back as I can remember, my hair has always been the topic of discussion. From press-and-curls to ponytails with knocker balls, I still received compliments. Other women and girls were shocked to hear that I never had a perm and that I'm not "mixed." My mother took pride in teaching me healthy hair care.
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At my hair appointment, I had a feeling of anxiousness. I wanted this hair off of my head as soon as possible. I wanted the dead weight finally lifted. I wanted to be happy and carefree. As the stylist started to cut, I wanted to see my depression land on the floor with the rest of my hair. I became allergic. I didn't want to see my hair, feel my hair, take pictures of my hair. I didn't want to make it an event. I just wanted it gone. Walking out of that salon with a fresh haircut awakened my spirit. It wasn't until that moment I experienced sunshine and good weather. My five senses became alert.
That was the first time I smiled in a very long time. I was finally happy. I was ready to conquer the world.
The first couple of years without hair were terrific. I no longer had to spend hours washing and prepping my hair for the week. Frizz and humidity were an afterthought. The fact that I could put the product in my hair and smooth it all over and leave the house without hesitation was exciting. My hair no longer became a priority. My friends and family didn't agree entirely with my decision. Some enjoyed it, and others disliked it. At the time, how others felt about my hair wasn't my problem at all. I would receive compliments on how my hair matched my personality. I finally felt confident. It was an automatic mood-changer.
Having long hair dictated how I lived my life. Sweating wasn't an option so I couldn't work out, getting in the pool during a hot summer's day gave me anxiety. I never participated in water balloon fights. My hair became another layer of my depression that I no longer needed. Having shorter hair didn't occupy my thoughts as much anymore; I no longer cared. Freedom has no barriers, and at that particular time, I was free yet still depressed and gloomy. I let myself and my hair go, and I had no regrets.
The Change of Heart
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September 2018 was when I decided to get therapy. Five months in, my perspective on certain things began to change. Something I once wanted, I no longer desired. Things I needed, I no longer found necessary. I started to inherit a certain level of clarity that I've never had. My insecurities led me to believe that my hair was one of the many problems I was dealing with, which caused me to slip deeper into a depression.
After being asked "What does beauty look like to you?" from my therapist, I quickly realized that having longer hair represented beauty to me. I knew there was nothing wrong with having shorter hair. I felt like I no longer needed my short hair to get rid of my depression. I wanted the best of both worlds by coping with my depression and getting my curls back.
After reflecting on that time, I realized three things that I should've done before cutting my hair off.
Dissecting What Femininity Meant To Me
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As many of us will admit, I was one of those people who loved the Explore page on Instagram. You can scroll through an endless library of hair products, wig tutorials, and modern hair trends. I got lost in a trance. I started to compare my hair to the women I would see.
When I looked in the mirror, I saw a woman who had the potential to be beautiful, but deep down, I felt unattractive. Having my hair at my old length made me feel like a woman. I realized that looking like a woman is only half of the battle. I had to analyze what femininity meant to me.
I can say proudly that my womanhood has nothing to do with my hair, but it has everything to do about how I see myself in this lifetime. Anyone can achieve a look. Femininity is more of a spiritual journey. When I started to become grateful for the power that I have as a woman, I could just cry. It's an energy that one must meditate on and practice daily.
Self-Love Is an Inside Job
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What we think about ourselves shows others how we would like to be respected and loved. If you can't acknowledge the love you have for yourself, others will find it impossible to see it. It's a constant tug of war that you have with your mind daily. If you're stuck in this predicament, I'm here to tell you that it can change with consistency and patience. I had to realize that how I viewed myself was a bad habit that I allowed to slip into my subconscious. I was ignorant to the fact that my words have power.
It's impossible to live with confidence if you are always saying that you aren't worthy. I was introduced to affirmations by my therapist. Repeating something as simple as "I affirm that I am willing to release the causes and patterns in my consciousness that are creating any negative conditions in my life" can release any or all the pressure you put on yourself. There are endless amounts of premade affirmation cards available online. Reducing my negative self-talk worked for me. I was encouraged to create self-care habits.
Many people think that self-care means a spa day every day, which isn't the case. Self-care simply means to find joy in things that interest you or something you could see yourself doing for free. That's when I found writing as my joy. My negative thoughts reminded me of a revolving door. As a group of negative thoughts exit, a new set of negative words enter. Writing provides clarity. It gives my thoughts and feelings a voice. For many, that might not be as rewarding, but to hear that I'm an inspiration to women eliminates my depression. I can finally say without hesitation that I'm proud of myself for being patient with myself. To be brave enough to allow others to read my stories brings power and grace that no haircut could give me.
I Should've Gone to Therapy First
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I can admit while looking back at all of the choices I've made that I wasn't in my right state of mind. My mind was so weak at that time that I could've quickly fallen into drugs and alcohol. On the one hand, I was desperate for an easy fix. Depression didn't look good on me. The more I attempted to hide, the more it would show up through my hair. My logic at the time was that my hair was damaged. Cutting it will give my hair a chance to grow healthy again.
What I didn't realize is that my supply of band-aids was never-ending. I overcompensated a lot to cover or mask my pain.
Therapy should've been my first option. I would've used the tools to help me navigate through depression and anxiety. The fact that I had the chance to speak my mind without feeling judged would've made me feel so much better. My methods to cope only dealt with the surface. The therapist would want to get to the root.
I can write and display what I should have done during that time for hours. Still, as I'm going through this process of healing, I can admit that the idea of therapy was accepted, but being willing to sit down and speak created another layer of anxiety. I wasn't ready, and that is OK. I needed that tough time in my life to help me put certain things into perspective today. I can proudly say that I've completed my first year of therapy, my last haircut was February 2019, and I've been growing it out ever since.
From an excellent spiritual place, I can determine what hairstyles I want to try. I created a rule that if I ever feel the need to cut my hair that I follow these simple steps: Write it out, speak out loud, take a nap, then find the right protective style.
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com.
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Writer, Empath, Listener, Self Improver, and a motivational speaker to her homegirls Teisha LeShea currently resides in California who loves to add fifteen million items to her Amazon cart. She is passionate about wellness, spiritual improvement, leveling up, and setting up twice a month therapy appointments. She writes with you in mind. Her listicle and personal stories will inspire you to dig deep within yourself to be a better you. You can follow her on Instagram @teisha.leshea and & @tl_teisha.leshea
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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